Sunday, September 11, 2011


Today, 302 years ago, the Battle of Malplaquet in the War of the Spanish Succession was fought.

The War of the Spanish Succession was fought from 1702-1713 to determine who would be King of Spain. There were two claimants to the throne: the Austrian Charles III and the Frenchman Philip V. Austria, England, the Netherlands, and Prussia supported Charles III and France and Bavaria supported Philip V. There were three theatres of war: the Netherlands/Belgium, Spain, and the Rhine River.

England sent the Duke of Marlborough to head the Allied war effort in the Netherlands with Prince Eugene of Savoy as his second-in-command. Marlborough had beaten the Franco/Bavarians at Blenheim, at Ramillies, and at Oudenarde. Prince Eugene had worked with him except at Ramillies, where he defeated the French at Turin instead.

The war had not gone well for the French. Cities had surrendered, three French armies had been destroyed, and commanders had been killed or captured. A few bright spots shone through, like Berwick's victory at Almanza and Tesse's repulse of Eugene at Toulon. But Marlborough had never been defeated in battle.

Louis XIV assigned the campaign of 1709 to his best French general, Marshal Villars, with Marshal Boufflers as his second-in-command. Villars had entrenched near Malplaquet with a new French army and was prepared for battle. He had perhaps 80,000 soldiers and few veterans.

By contrast, Marlborough and Eugene had united and had 100,000 soldiers ready to take the French lines. Most of them were veterans. The Allies had 110 cannons, against 80 French cannons.

Early in the morning, the battle began with a heavy artillery duel. The Dutch assaulted the right wing of the entrenchments but were forced back by a heavy counterattack. Marlborough sent Eugene into the left with a heavy column of troops. They advanced, but were met with heavy cannon and musket fire. Nevertheless, the Allied forces stormed through. Eugene was wounded in the head, but not mortally.

With the left secure, the allies poured cavalry through the center. Boufflers led the French cavalry, including the Maison du Roi (King's Guards--Gardes du Corps, Gendarmes, Chevaux-Legers) in six counter-attacks on the Allied cavalry.
Villars was wounded in the knee and was moved from the field. Boufflers withdrew the French army neatly away, while the Allies did not attempt a pursuit. The French had lost 9,206 men and the Allies, 20,316.

So who won? Marlborough forced the French from their entrenchments and proceeded to capture the city of Mons, but Villars had inflicted heavy casualties on the Allies. Marlborough was fired in 1711, and the command given to the Duke of Ormonde.

Malplaquet bears similarities to Bunker Hill. Both saw an entrenched army forced from their fortifications while inflicting heavy casualties on their opponents. And yet the heavy casualties made the British more eager for peace.

Note: Casualty figures are taken from John Cornelius O'Callaghan's excellent study History of Irish Brigades in the Service of France

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